Jun 11

KEEPING TRACK OF CHARACTERS

In another post I mentioned the idea of using the alphabet to keep from having too many characters whose names that not only begin with the same letter, but are even similar in the number of letters.     Imagine having a story with characters named Betsy, Betty, Bessy, and Bossy.  In screenwriting where the character’s name is over the dialogue, characters with similar names become very confusing.

Be it short stories, plays, screenplays or novels, it’s a good plan to keep track of all your characters, major, minor and even insignificant.  What I’ve started doing is to have a Character List where I have an alphabet and whenever I introduce a character, I enter the character and a thumbnail sketch of information I know about them.

Here’s an example:

Doris Meany — 50’s, overweight, beady black eyes, beautiful complexion, nursing supervisor, divorced, mother of daughter who is missing in action in Afghanistan,

Able Ryan — 40’s, muscled, freckled, thinning red hair, disbarred lawyer turned private detective, married to an alcoholic, drug abuser who is in recovery

Melvin Thao — a Mong,  (Hmong, Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand) shorter than his partner, oriental looking, shaved head.  Carries a .40 Glock 19 in a shoulder holster w/ 2 extra clips, and a Beretta 21 Bobcat, .22 in an ankle holster.

As I proceed with the story and the character develops or I discover more information about an already introduced character, I add to their paragraph on my Character List.  I’ve found that when a character turns up again it is so nice to have their basic info easily at hand to both remind me who they are, and to note what parts of their character I’ve not created or revealed.

It also helps keep the names from being in a part of the alphabet I’ve already used by eliminating each letter from my alphabet as I use it.  I only count one letter of the alphabet per character because I figure a character will primarily be known by either first or last name, maybe even a nick name, and that’s why I underline that letter in the character’s name on this list.  Like this:

 

B

C

 

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

L

 

N

O

Etc.

Particularly in longer pieces, novel, scripts, it’s good to have all the character info in an easily accessible place.  If you’re one of those who does not outline and just create your story as you go, you’ll find a list like this very helpful when you discover a character you had almost forgotten about who suddenly becomes a key player.

I used to think I would get an intern back when I was still teaching full time, to go through all my 30 odd screenplay and half dozen stage plays, as well as my novels and short stories and do this kind of thing for all my characters.  But back then, I was thinking about putting the information on a 3 X 5 card.  Doing this myself as I go now is easy.

Jun 05

Screenplays

Vrose_edited-3

The Vampire Rose by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 26720 words. Published on May 4, 2013. Screenplays.
A vampire rises in modern day Houston. Detective Aylyne Bartok encounters a TV talk-show host who may be a suspect or a helper in the investigation.

Sarah Quinn copy

The Rape Of Sarah Quinn by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 22290 words. Published on October 21, 2012. Fiction.
A rancher’s young bride is raped by a rogue Texas Ranger. In order to track down the villain, the rancher joins forces with a hostile rancher in a race across Texas for justice.

 

The Texas Rattlesnake Murders by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 26240 words. Published on October 24, 2012. Fiction.
Three seemingly unconnected murder share only the link of the manner of death – by rattlesnake bites. The Texas Rangers get the help of a young female TV reporter who is psychic and a carnival snake handler to solve these bizarre killings.

Pancho's Pilot copy

Pancho’s Pilot by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 24370 words. Published on October 26, 2012. Fiction.
Just before World War I along the Texas-Mexican border, an American pilot, who gets air sick if he’s over four feet off the ground, lands his bi-plane on the wrong side of the Rio Grande and is captured by second rate gang of Mexican bandits. The outlaws leader, a Pancho-Villa-want’a-be, now has what’s his rival does not; an air force.

Mom&ApplePye_edited-6

Mom and Apple Pye by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 23330 words. Published on November 8, 2012. Screenplays.
Farin, the owner of a Galveston cat house, has a chance to rekindle his long shattered high school romance with the woman who is married to the bordello’s biggest and most regular clients. Mom, who adopted the motherless Farin as a child as she continued to work in the red light districts of Texas. Today, Apple Pye is Mom’s number one girl and Farin’s best money maker. But Apple is in love with Farin.

Lajatis Script Cover

Incident At Lajatis by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 29370 words. Published on December 11, 2012. Fiction.
The stallion Trafalgar is the culmination of is the best of British thoroughbreds and American mustangs. The horse has been stolen from Texas by Mexican Comancheroes to a bandits’ stronghold across the Rio Grande. Lord Wilford Bristol’s $2 a week cowhands aren’t interested in venturing across the border to raid the outlaws recover the prize horse. So the duke seeks out gunfighter Clay Maxwell to recover his prize horse.

River of Tears

Rivers of Tears by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 21170 words. Published on January 14, 2013. Fiction.
“The River of Tears” is the Rio Grande. This screenplay, set South Texas, is about refugees from the Americas and the people who both support and oppose what is called “the sanctuary movement” and illegal immigration.

6 AND 10

6 And 10 by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 25630 words. Published on January 15, 2013. Fiction.
Coed Mara Foley takes a summer internship with a South Texas TV station. Teamed with a reluctant photo journalist with little formal education but several years of the experience in the fast moving and competitive world of local TV news, the pair stumble on a murder story. Mara quickly discovers the real world of broadcast journalism is very different from what she’s been taught.

The Evil Eye

The Evil Eye by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 21160 words. Published on January 16, 2013. Screenplays.
“The River of Tears” is the Rio Grande. This screenplay, set South Texas, is about refugees from the Americas and the people who both support and oppose what is called “the sanctuary movement” and illegal immigration.

Between Love & Murder

Between Love And Murder by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 24310 words. Published on January 20, 2013. Screenplays.
Best selling mystery/comedy novelist, Dalt Glass and his lovely and sexy wife Ceiana decide to get a divorce because the spark seems to be gone from the marriage. It was a very happy divorce until Ceiana becomes the prime suspect in a murder. She begs Dalt to use his imagination to prove her innocence.

Blood Drive_edited-5 copy

Blood Drive by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 22700 words. Published on January 20, 2013. Screenplays.
Olin Caylor is a widower with a 12-year-old daughter, and he’s a down-on-his-luck private investigator in Houston. A job finding a missing person turns into vampire hunt. His assertive young daughter, Darcie, becomes the ultimate target of the vampire. Her father’s skills may be the only things that can save his daughter’s life.

Holiday For An Assassin

Holiday For An Assassin by Jack Stanley
Price: $4.99 USD. 24800 words. Published on January 23, 2013. Screenplays.
Professional hitman Warren Langhammer and college English and poetry instructor Joanna Youngblood don’t have a thing in common in this life. That’s the catch – “this life.” They have known, loved and lost each other countless times before in other lives. Will this one be any different?

DEATH SCENE

Death Scene by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 22370 words. Published on January 25, 2013. Screenplays.
A university’s theatre complex as a reputation of having a curse on it because of several unexplained deaths there. When a new professor and renowned playwright who is trying to rebuild the program is murdered on the eve of the opening of her new play, rumors of the curse resurface. The theatre students decide to pull an all-nighter to make sure the show goes on much to the death of many.

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

Too Good To Be True by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 22950 words. Published on January 25, 2013. Screenplays.
A law student about to marry his fiancée gets an anonymous message on his answering machine that says, “You can’t marry your fiancée – she’s your sister.” Being a scrupulous and meticulous young man, he does a little checking and discovers he is not the biological son of his father as he had always believed. It’s just days before the wedding, so what does he do?

The Prometheus Peril

The Prometheus Peril by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 26260 words. Published on January 28, 2013. Screenplays.
The mayor of Houston, Amon Burlingame, receives a recorded message from someone calling themselves, “Prometheus.” He threatens to nuke the city. With the help and an attractive physics professor from the university, the mayor must decide if this threat is real and if so, what to do.

A Violent End

A Violent End by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 28200 words. Published on January 30, 2013. Screenplays.
Javi really doesn’t care that his father has been murdered because thanks to Javi’s testimony at the age of seven, his father went to prison for killing of his mother. Now, it’s up to Javi to I.D. the body and sees to the funeral arrangements. But he finds that the man everyone else seems to have known is not the same man he knew. Only by picking up his father’s last case as a P.I.

Angel's Revenge

Angel’s Revenge by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 25340 words. Published on January 30, 2013. Screenplays.
Angel Diaz is a disc jockey on South Padre Island, Texas, because her ex-boy friend, dumped her the night before she took the exam for medical school five years ago. She flunked the test and never made it into med school. When she sees her ex show up at the island airport she decides to get even.

Afternoon Delight

Afternoon Delight by Jack Stanley
Price: $3.99 USD. 22900 words. Published on February 6, 2013. Fiction.
Thane is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who gets his chance to become a producer. His wife Robyn, a world class landscape artist, and he have an open marriage because sex is painful for Robyn and off the table for them as a couple. While Thane is goes on location to produce his first film, Robyn decides to have vaginal surgery to solve their problem. Will it work?

Jun 05

Short Stories

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15566984

Dangerous Camp On the Kenai by Jack Stanley
Price: Free! 2880 words. Published on March 29, 2013. Fiction.
(3.00 from 1 review)
“Bitterroot” Lodlow Rothrock didn’t come to Alaska for the gold in the year 1899. He had a government job and was happy just to be a part of the last frontier. Doing a little surveying on the Kenia Peninsula a good hundred miles southwest of Anchorage, he sets up camp for the night in the hunting grounds of a killer.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15566984

Klondike Justice by Jack Stanley
Price: $0.99 USD. 6270 words. Published on July 12, 2012. Fiction.
Did gambler “Fair Deal” Doak Logan empty “Quicksilver” Riggs DeGraf’s brain pan with a .44 shot to the head along the frozen Yukon River? A miner’s court is convened in the Golden Mecca saloon on the Alaskan/Canadian frontier during the Klondike gold rush of the early 1900’s to decide the issue. It’s a life or death kangaroo court.

Jun 05

Novels

gunsrio_rev_resized

Guns Along The Rio by Jack Stanley
Price: $4.99 USD. 29200 words. Published on July 16, 2012. Fiction.
Texas never had a law against being stupid. Young Trace LaFon counted that a good thing or he’d never have lived long enough to become a Texas Ranger at 17 or partnered up with Xavier Falcon. But the two become a part of history the very first time the Rangers were ever used as an arm of law enforcement in the Lone Star state. Guns Along The Rio is the first of the pair’s adventures.

Academic Affairs Cover

Academic Affairs by Jack Stanley
Price: $4.99 USD. 119980 words. Published on December 8, 2012. Fiction.
Since the Middle Ages, both consensual and coerced sexual relationships between faculty and students have been the dark side of university life. The shooting of a popular anthropology professor by his female graduate assistant in the 1980’s brings the subject out in the open again.

May 06

Finishing What You Start (on 2nd Thought)

While it is true that if you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to finish what you start — half or even 7/8 of a story isn’t something you can sell or even give away. You have to work on pieces for which you have a passion.  What I’ve recently discovered is there is a time for each story.  When that time has passed, you need to move on.

What I had been trying to do was to update a novel I wrote over 30 years ago.  The update would have worked because the subject, latenite TV, had almost come full circle as far as my material was concerned but the process of updating the text involved a level of attention I simply discovered I no longer had for this topic.

Think about it.  Every thing from telephones to typewriters to character’s backstory now involved different wars and even jokes about TV required changes.  After a while, there were just so many things to be altered that it required so much time and effort that I wished I were expending on actual creation, that the result was that I was laboring on something I didn’t enjoy as much as I did when I originally created it.

So, I closed up the rewrite and all its files and went to work on a totally new project which I love and can’t wait to get to each day.

Apr 08

Writing Dialogue # 3

When I used to teach screenwriting I created a sample list of activities that script writers could use to keep their dialogue from being a TV talk show with the only images being faces – talking heads.

The temptation is to have the characters meet in a restaurant and talk while they eat (which presents difficulties for continuity of action and difficulty for actors who have to continued to eat all day while the scene is shot from different angles) .  A second solution is to have them go somewhere visually interesting, a beautiful view, a zoo, or an tunnel in a walk-thru aquarium, etc.  A third option is to have the characters take a drive in or on a vehicle and hold the conversation during the drive.

All three of these still produce talking head scenes.  A better choice is to have the characters doing something (or at least one of them doing something) while the other watches and perhaps takes notes or moves around the active character during the conversation if not actually participating in the activity.

Here’s that list.  Please note, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list but merely some suggestions of actions to make dialogue scenes more visual.

Applying suntan lotion to self or other character

ART

Painting

Sculpture

Woodcarving

Barber/Beauty shop visit

BUILDING

Addition to home or office

Campfire

Deck

House

Tent

BUYING

A coke

Candy

Bottled water

Lotto ticket

CAR

Cleaning inside

Maintenance/tuning

Rotating tires

Painting

Washing

Waxing

Casting a spell

Changing a diaper

CLEANING

Attic

Boat

Cabin

House

Bathrooms

Making beds

Mopping

Sweeping

Vacuuming

Garage

Pool or pond

COOKING A MEALl

Kitchen

Barbecue

Campfire

Committing a crime

Cutting or coloring hair

DEALING WITH OFFICE EQUIPMENT

Xerox

Fax

Computer program

Doing laundry, dishes, housework

Doing physical exercise

Drinking

Driving

Eating a meal

EDITING

Audio

Film

Video

Electrolysis, bikini wax

EXERCISE

Boxing

Karate

Running

Swimming

Trampoline

Walking

Weights

Yoga

FEEDING

Child

Pet

Livestock

Fishing

Gambling

Gardening

GETTING

Body piercing

Fingerprinted

Massage

Photographed

Sworn in

Tattoo

GROOMING

Another person

An animal

Self

Hanging a picture

Having sex

HOBBY

Computer/video game

Developing/printing pictures

Model building

Model painting

Netting

Puzzles

Stamps

Scrapbook

Taking pictures

HOME MAINTENANCE

Laying carpet

Laying tile

Painting

Plumbing

HUNTING

Birds

Large game

Interviewing for a job

MEDICAL

Exam

Operation

Reports

Mixing drinks

Mowing lawn

Moving

Packing

PLAYING

Cards

Chess

Music

PRACTICING SPORTS

Batting

Golf

Skeet

PROGRAMING ELECTRONIC DEVICE

Cell phone

Tivo

Thermostat

ARRANGING

Clothes in closet

Dishes in cabinet

Dishes on table

Furniture

Food in cupboard

Rescuing someone

Shaving

SHOPPING FOR

Car

Clothing

Groceries

Electronics

STANDING IN LINE FOR

Tickets

Documents

Checkout of DVD, food, gas

TAKING DRUGS FOR

Recreation

Chemotherapy

Death by injection

Training an animal

Voting

WASHING

Boat

Car

Clothes

Driveway

Windows

Sidewalk

WORKING ON A HOBBY

Butterfly collections

Coin collection

Photography

Stamps

Wrapping presents

WRITING

Books

Diary/journal

E-mail

Letters

Stories

Novels

Apr 04

E-Publishing Basics – Part 1

It is absolutely amazing how easy it is to publish your own work electronically on Kindle and Smashwords.  These two are the biggest publishers and while Kindle only reaches Amazon/Kindle readers, there are people with Kindle apps on I-pads, Nooks, Sony Readers and all the other Android, Mac, Windows, and Google tablets out there.  Smashwords, on the other hand, translates your material into the major e-book formats to be read by all the key e-book publishers.

Here’s what you need to know.

First, finish your story.  And by finish I mean not only get to THE END but run the spelling and grammar checker on your work, even listen to it be read to you by your computer (Text Aloud is an example of these types of programs – some computers already have an onboard text reader you can use).  Additionally you need to get someone who is actually good as spelling and grammar to at least edit your work so any readers won’t think you’re a dufus who can’t even get the most basic parts of storytelling correct.

(I say this knowing I am one of the world’s worst spellers and there are most likely spelling and grammar errors in some of my blog post here, even this one.  I’m also aware of the Thomas Jefferson quote to the effect that “I have little respect for a man who can spell a word only one way.”  But this is a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.”  You should understand that I do run spell check and grammar check and listen to my blog post being read aloud to me before I post them.  But I, like you, know what it’s supposed to be and don’t always hear, much less see, the mistakes.  At least I try and I hope you do better than I do.)

Here’s the deal, when people who don’t know you read your material and stumble across spelling and grammar errors, they begin to discount everything else in your work.   I know a reporter who makes it a habit to read every newspaper he reads (and there are a lot of them) with a red pencil in his hand to correct errors he encounters.  Of course one of the definitions of journalism is “literature on the fly” meaning that everybody knows newspaper and magazine copy is written and published in a hurry – resulting in mistakes.  This is not an excuse and it doesn’t make it right to either the writers, publishers, or readers.

Try your best to get it right before you publish it.

There are editors, professional editors, who will edit your material for a fee.  You can find them on the Internet but you never know what you’re getting unless you know the editor yourself or have someone you trust recommend an editor.  Here again is where a writer’s group can come in handy.

A good editor not only looks for the spelling and grammar, but for story holes, character names that are not consistent, and a myriad of other problems.  You want someone you can trust and who is ultimately helpful to you and not someone who does a quick read, red lines mistakes and thinks you’re an idiot for even writing the kinds of things you do.

There are editors who specialize on every genre imaginable and that’s what you want.  If you get a science fiction editor to edit your romance you’ll most likely not get any story help.

An example of the kind of thing a good editor can do for you is the story about Hemmingway’s editor who told him that his novel, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS ended when the main character died.  Hemmingway had written an additional three chapters to the book but instantly understood what his editor was saying and agreed.  He told the editor to just cut the last three chapters and that’s the book we have today.

All of the above is Step 1 — Getting Your Story Finished.

Now, Step 2 has to do with Formatting.

All I can advise you about is how to format straight words and paragraphs without graphic, drawings or illustrations.  There is some excellent advice on how to add graphics of all kinds in the Smashwords Guide (available on-line for free).  Even adding little things, like a first letter of each chapter which is bigger or different from the rest of you book or story, or adding a cute little curlicue at the end of each chapter becomes more involved than I want to deal with here.  All this can be done but you’re adding work for yourself if these little things are important to you.

My advice is first learn how to publish a simple straight forward novel or short story, stage or screenplay before you look at what else is possible.

Your life is going to be one hell of a lot simpler if you write in Microsoft Word.  You can use anything from Word Perfect, to Open Office, to Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft, but eventually you’ll have to get it to MS Word to easily handle your e-publishing.

Long time TV anchor and reporter, David Brinkley, wrote about a dozen books using the old word processor Word Perfect 4.2.  For years his son’s kept trying to get him to switch to M.S. Word or even the Mac word processor.  His response was, “Why should I?  Word Perfect 4.2 works for me.  It does everything I need to do and it does it easily.”  His editor and/or publisher most likely transferred Brinkley’s books to MS Word because it is kind of the industry standard, but the writer didn’t have to do it.

If you’re self publishing, you’re going to have make the change.  You can still write in whatever program you like, but there should be a way to “Save As” if not Word, then RTF (Rich Text File) which will preserve all your paragraphing so it is readable by MS Word.

The reason for using or translating to Word is that’s what KDF (Kindle Direct Publishing) uses.  The other major publisher, Smashwords, uses M.S. Word ’97-2003 or Word XML Document which you can save from Word and from several other word processors as well.

When you read the Smashwords Guide (a must read) you’ll find out that you need to get down to a single font, and single paragraph style.  You might be in love with some exotic font, but e-book devices don’t read all fonts and don’t read them equally as well.  Smashwords recommends New Times Roman as your font.

Here’s something to understand.  One of the major drivers of the e-publishing phenomena is that older readers were the first to fell in love with the resizing of font feature of e-book readers.  And since older reader tend to read more than younger readers, that has driven e-publishing until it has become what MP3 is to music and CDs.  After a great deal of experience and research, New Times Roman has emerged as the easiest font to read over all.  Courier New is also popular but in side by side test, New Times Roman has been found more readable in all different sizes.  And, bottom line, getting folks to actually read your book is still your goal.  So why invest yourself in any font that may work but will turn off some readers.  You want to attract readers not just to one work but to multiple books, plays, or short stories.  So, don’t pick a font to spite your reader.

The next part of the formatting issue is paragraph style.  You can indent the first line of each paragraph or separate each paragraph like a business letter and start each paragraph flush left.  All e-book readers are looking for is consistency.  The only command e-publishing really wants is paragraph returns, centering, and a few forced page breaks.  Remember with the changing of font sizes, where your pages break will vary from e-reader to e-reader.  You’ll want to force a page break after your title page, your copyright page and after “THE END” before you add your “About the Author” and other publication lists.  That’s all.

This means that you need to go through and stripe out all print definitions and leave only those three – unless you’re willing to deal with adding graphics.

Step number 4 is that you’ll also need to create the book cover for your short story – yes this is a book – book, single short story, collection of short stories, or play.  Again Smashwords has some wonderful advice about doing this.

Here’s the short version of what you need to know about it.  The pixel size of your image is important and the catchiness and readability of your image as a thumbnail will help or hurt your sales.  A JPEG image is what both Kindle and Smashwords wants.

Remember, this is going to be an electronic publication and most people will encounter it on a page with several other thumbnail size images of other book covers.  Does yours jump out?  If it only looks good full size and the a mess when squeezed down, you’ll need to make some changes.

If you want to do this yourself, you can find some wonderful and free images on the Internet and you can even buy the rights to some copyrighted images for a few bucks at some other sights.  Contrary to the best advice, people do judge books by their covers.

So, now you have your text finished, edited, and formatted, and your cover.  The only other element you’re missing is one of the most important.

Number 5 has two parts.  You need (1) a short description of your work and (2) a longer description (Smashwords requires both, but Kindle only requires one – you can use your longer description or the shorter one for Kindle.  You decide. Spend a little quality time making your descriptions leap off the page and grab the reader without giving everything away.

Armed with these five items, your finished and edited text, properly formatted, your cover, and descriptions of your work (one short, one long), you’re now ready to create free accounts on both KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords so you can upload your book and be published.

Yes, that’s all there is to it.

Apr 03

WRITING DIALOGUE # 2

             Here’s an example of how NOT to write dialogue because no one will believe it.  It may be grammatically proper and win the praise of your English teacher, but readers won’t react favorably at all.

            “Good afternoon, my younger brother.  How was your day at school?”

            “Wonderful.  We learned so much about multiplication tables it thrilled me.”

            “How fantastic that is to hear.  I share your joy.”

            “Is our Mother home, yet.  I want to go have a deep discussion about it with her?”

            “No, Mother is still working at her job at the bank.”

            “I will have to wait until she returns, I suppose.”

            “Did you happen to check our mailbox as you came in?”

            “Yes.  Here it is.  I believe it is all commercial advertisements but I will leave it on the table here for Mother to examine.”

The lack of conflict makes this a dull exchange and the words the characters use are totally unbelievable.   It is too easy to go the other way and have so little dialogue that it doesn’t convey much in the way of character or story.

            “Whaz up, dork?”

            “My I.Q.  Up yours.”

            “Bite me.”

            “Mom home?”

            “Nope.”

            “Crap.”

            “You check the mail?”

            “Nothing  for you, stupid.”

While there is at least conflict here, it takes up too much room for the information it provides and it tells us nothing about either character, name, age, sex — nothing.  Additionally this does not advance the plot much if at all and give us no idea where or when the conversation is taking place

Here’s a middle ground.

            “It’s about time you came home, pizza face.”

            “I had detention because you dropped me off late this morning.  Thanks for nothing, sis.”

            “You can walk tomorrow and be on time.”

            “Let’s see what Mom says about it.”

            “She’s not home, yet.”

            “I can wait.”

            “Did you check the mail?”

            “Yes, but no acceptance letter from beauty school or Idiot Tech for you.”

Now we have both conflict and two distinct sides, but it leads us to expect more fireworks when Mother gets home and when tomorrow morning rolls around.  This advances the story, defines character, gives us information (although not much) and it’s kind of entertaining to read.

What you don’t see here are the details about the characters, where the conversation takes place, or even who exactly is speaking.

In some ways it’s good to keep the descriptive adjectives to a minimum and some writers prefer nothing more than, “he said, she said, or he asked or she asked.”  These kinds of dialogue tags if simple are almost invisible.  However, when these are read aloud — for Audio Books, etc., they become very boring.

These days elaborate dialogue tags such as “she exaggerated”, “he queried”, or “they exclaimed” can be too much.  To avoid this and the keep from using only the simplest of dialogue tags, the writer has to have characters each speak distinctively or at least maintain the same side of the war of words through what they say.  It’s pretty easy to keep track of who is saying what if your characters maintain their position in the verbal exchange and you punctuate it correctly.

It is, however, better to sprinkle in a little description in the dialogue.

“It’s about time you came home, pizza face.” Daisy said sprawled on the living room couch in short shorts and a tank top as she surfed the web on her tablet while letting her bright pink nail polish dry on her foam rubber separated toes.

            “I had detention,” Wilber said dropping his backpack in the chair no one used since Dad died two years ago.  “Why, you ask?” kicking off his unlaced high top sneakers.  “Because you dropped me off late this morning.  Thanks for nothing, sis.”

            “You can walk tomorrow and be on time,” she said without even taking her eyes off her browsing.

            “Let’s see what Mom says about it.”

            “She’s not home, yet.”

            “I can wait.”  He stood over her beside the couch and added, “As I recall, taking me to school — on time — was one of the reasons for Mom’s letting you get a car in the first place.”

            Looking up, Daisy totally ignored her younger brother’s objections.  “Did you check the mail?”

            “Yes,” he smiled, “but no acceptance letter for beauty school or Idiot Tech for you.”

Description helps make dialogue move and contributes to the images of the story.  In fact, dialogue is much more entertaining if delivered by characters who are doing something rather than simply being talking heads no matter how wonder the dialogue itself may be.

Apr 02

Writing Dialogue # 1

Good dialogue should engage the reader and inspire the actor (if it’s in a script).  Dialogue has these obvious purposes:

  1. Advance the plot
  2. Define characters
  3. Provide the reader/audience needed information
  4. Entertains

Originally dialogues were what today we call plays.  To the Greeks, these were exchanges between two or more characters in the form of conversations.   The ideas being discussed were of more importance than the personalities of the characters who were conversing.

As drama developed it became evident that while dialogue was one of the most important instruments in the writer’s toolbox, it wasn’t the only one.  There was pantomime, action, even dance as well as costumes, props, and sets.  But it was dialogue that carried the majority of the story.  The Greeks used to say, “Let’s go hear a play.”

Even a quick look through Shakespeare shows that rather than requiring the actors, props and costumes, for every event in the story, sometimes it was quicker, easier and even more dramatic to have character dialogue or monologue on stage about events the supposedly happened off stage.  This remains true today, not just on stage, but on film and video and even in prose.

In a very real sense, good dialogue is a verbal battle.  It’s always more interesting to introduce conflict into dialogue instead of presenting a scene or section or chapter which is nothing more than simple questions followed by straight forward answers or a chorus reporting information crucial to the story.  Even when the point of the dialogue is primarily to present information to the audience, it’s more interesting if it’s done in the form of a struggle.  This is true no matter if you’re writing something dramatic or comic.

Look, for example at the famous “Who’s On First” routine by comic’s Bud Abbott and Lou Costillo. http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=who’s+on+first+video&mid=1387B833277116F5E8AF1387B833277116F5E8AF&view=detail&FORM=VIRE1

Or the Monty Python “Dead Parrot” sketch.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Dead+Pariot+sketch&mid=18444FBEF7F37CFAC07E18444FBEF7F37CFAC07E&view=detail&FORM=VIRE7

In both of these examples you see conflict from the very beginning, and the two distinct points of view battle and the scenes progress.

Often in a police procedural drama, it is more interesting to have the detective face resistance from the person from whom he or she is trying to silicate facts.  The conflict in the scene doesn’t necessarily have to be about the facts to be revealed.

How often have you seen a scene in which the person being questions says something to the effect, “I don’t talk to cops.”   Here, then, is the conflict.  Even when the witness, the “perp” (perpetrator) or the “C.I.” (confidential informant)  being questioned, finally gives up the information, it is not quick, easy, or painless.  This makes the reader/audience remember the information later.   To quote American Revolutionary pamphlet writer Thomas Paine, “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.”

The two comic scenes I’ve sited also present us with distinct characters who have unique speech patterns and mannerism to make them the ideal foils for each other in these contests of words.  Remember characterization is one of the goals of good dialogue.  This is accomplished primarily through the careful phrasing of each character, neither of whom sounds like the other but rather are often polar opposites in education, vocabulary, skills and goals.

The late Robert B. Parker, author of the 40 Spencer crime novels (the inspiration for the TV series Spencer For Hire which began in 1985) as well as nine Jesse Stone, five Sunny Randall crime novels and four Cole & Hitch westerns in addition to several other stand alone books, both novels and nonfiction, reached a point in his later years in which the majority of all his novels were primarily dialogue.  So good was his dialogue that it carries his stories giving us the conflict, character, humor, suspense and mystery of each.

Part of the answer to the question, “How do you write good dialogue?” involves the writer developing a good ear to hear and then create dialogue that reflects time, place, and character without requiring the reader to constantly consult and dictionary or thesaurus.

Remember, dialogue is not actually the true speech of people but it resembles it so closely that it appears to be exactly that.  Use your cell phone to record some conversations with friends and then try to transcribe this later.  Part of what you’ll discover is that people do not speak in proper grammatical language. We speak in fragments, incomplete sentences, phrases and sometime just grunts and snorts.  We end sentences with prepositions and eventually run afoul of all the rules of proper language.  So what you’re trying to achieve in your dialogue is not to imitate real language but something that seems to be that.

Dialogue scenes have a point, a direction, a reason for being and the real speech of human don’t always accomplish very much.  We are all guilty of holding conversations with people in which we don’t exchange any new information or move from point A to point B.  Dialogue like that in a story wastes time and repels the reader/audience.  A given dialogue scene may seem unimportant but if it were extracted from the story, would something be missing?  If the answer is “Yes,” then the dialogue has a purpose. If the answer is “No,” cut it out of your story.

If you as the writer can capture the flavor of an economic, social, political, or religious class, then you have something you can bend to your will to create through dialogue the character you need in your story.

Dickens used to visit the locales where certain classes of people gathered and listened to them talk to try and isolate what made these people speak the way they did.

You must, however, be careful not to write in true dialect.  First of all a true dialect will be difficult to read and may be difficult for an actor to perform in a script.  Slowing down your reader/audience is never your goal as a fiction writer.  A little bit of dialect or phrases common to the character of your speaker will go a long way.

It will be a more interesting conversation if one or both of the characters is exercising their wit, intelligence, or shrewdness (or the lack of any of these characteristics) in the course of the dialogue.  People who can use language colorfully, or to inject humor, or to test or ridicule others are interesting people to listen to.

Mar 24

Individual Scenes and Chapters

     A chapter in a novel or a scene in a short story or script is a complete dramatic unit which should accomplish all of the following:

  1. advances the plot
  2. develops character
  3. provides the audience with needed information

And all of this should keep the reader/viewer engaged in the story.

 

In a screenplay or teleplay, a new scene occurs whenever the time and/or place of the story changes.  That’s why each new scene begins with a SCENE HEADER:

 

INT. – BARN – DAY

 

EXT. – BEV’S HOUSE – NIGHT

 

In film and video, a scene is defined by its physical location and its time.  Whenever the CAMERA and or the character move from one location (the living room) to another (the hall, the kitchen, the bedroom, etc.) it is a new scene.  Even in the same physical location, when the time changes (a few minutes later, hours later, days, week, months, or years later) this is a new scene. In film and TV each new scene requires a new SCENE HEADER and at least one line of description of action.

What you need to understand is that in the making of a film/video, sometimes the living room set you use isn’t physically located next to the hallway, kitchen, or bedroom set.  If all these sets are built on a sound stage, they will be built at different times unless the soundstage is big enough to hold all of them.  Think of the average sitcom that has an upstairs.  In fact, there is no upstairs.  All the sets, all the rooms and the locations are on ground level but the actors movement from one to the other is done by editing their exit from one set to their entrance into the next.  Up the stairs on a set, like the Bundy house in “MARRIED WITH CHILDREN” had nothing beyond the top of the stairs except a wall flat and a set of “escape” stairs for the actors to come down after their exit – or a place for them to wait before their entrance to the on stage stairs.

If a production is using actual locations for all the sets and they are physically located in different places, all the living room scenes will be shot together one after another, then the hallway, kitchen, and bedroom scenes will be shot on different days but cut together to make it appear that the rooms are adjacent.  It is for this reason that scripts for film and video require SCENE HEADERS because the production must schedule the building, set up and lighting of each set for different times and usually different days.  These all become budget considerations for the producer and the production manager when they “breakdown” the script to figure out how much it will cost to produce.

 

On stage a French Scene is a scene which begins and ends when the number of characters on stage changes.  This may or may not be considerations to be made during rehearsal scheduling.  And a French Scene may or may not impact the scene dynamics significantly when character enter or exit.  But stage plays are not written with the French Scene concept in mind.  It’s more of a director’s consideration and will not be reflected anywhere except in the directors and stage manager’s marked scripts.

In prose for a short story or a novel, scenes may be separated by space on the page, by symbols such as –0–, ?,  or ? or others.  The change of time and/or space can also be accomplished without interruption to the text by having the change included as part of the prose.

By definition a chapter, like a scene in a script, is a part of the story with a beginning, middle and end.  How long it is depends on your market.  There was a time when chapters were 10 to 30 pages in length.  Today, chapters may be as short as two or three pages.  Go to a book store and thumb through the best sellers.  There simply are no rules about length.  The same can be said for a scene except for the scene in a film or video script — these shouldn’t run over 3 to 5 pages max.  As they say in the film business, “Less is more.”

When you write a scene or a chapter try to do this:

  1. have some kind of conflict in each (even if it has little or nothing to do with the actual material being covered)
  2. begin with a sight, sound, or dialogue which grabs the reader/audience
  3. start as late as possible in the scene or chapter eliminating any delaying material — get right to the meat of it ASAP.  (See the scenes of soap operas as examples.)
  4. plan the emotional arch from the beginning to the end; begin with one emotion and end on a totally different note;  emotion examples:
  5. anger                     l.  sacrifice             w. suspicious
  6. love                       m. joy                     x.  hate
  7. fear                        n.  empathic            y.  uncontrollable
  8. laughter                 o.  embarrassed      z.  faithful
  9. satisfaction            p.  greed
  10. lust                        q.  ridiculed
  11. grief                       r.  thoughtful
  12. devotion                s.  liberated
  13. suffering                t.  hopeful
  14. pride                      u. patriotic
  15. terror                     v. envious

 

  1. the end of the scene or chapter should keep the reader/audience connected to and interested in upcoming events in the story.  The end of the chapter should be like the beginning in that it keeps the interest of the reader/audience  — how else to you get a book you simply can’t put done or a movie you can’t walk out on?

5.  don’t forget the value of humor even in the most serious scenes

 

Be aware of these factors and how they impact the scene you are writing:

  1. physical location
  2. time of day
  3. environmental elements (dust, wind, temperature, humidity, light, etc.)
  4. ambient sounds
  5. characters’ physical movement or lack there of
  6. characters’ costumes and hand props

 

Short scenes keep the story moving.

Long, dialogue heavy scenes can slow the pace and be visually dull.

If you have a great deal of information to convey, like a character’s back story or factual information the audience needs to understand the story, it is better to break this material up into several short scenes or chapters in different locations rather than try to cover it all in one long chunk.  If possible, not only break this material up into several scenes/chapters, but intersperse it with other scenes/chapters which are furthering the story through other subplots or other levels.  This allows the audience to digest the required information in smaller bites.

Finally ask yourself:

  1. If this scene/chapter were cut from the script would the story still work?
  2. Do you need all of it or will a smaller cutting accomplish the same thing?
  3. Does this scene/chapter flow out of what has come before it in the story?
  4. Does the scene/chapter start as late as possible (cutting to the meat of the scene)?
  5. Is the description minimal but having impact (like a bikini, long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to be interesting)?
  6. Is the dialogue interactive and flowing out of the characters (as opposed to being a speech of information or a sermon of principals)?
  7. Is there tension (anger, danger, romance, sex, mystery or adventure) in the scene?
  8. Is there a hook at the beginning and at the end to make the reader/viewer want more?
  9. Is there humor in the scene/chapter?
  10. Does the scene sparkle with life, energy, surprise, and emotion?

 

And remember, if you find yourself skipping over parts of this scene/chapter as you reread it, this is telling you there’s something here that even you don’t want to read.

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